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Why Markey sees success in the unpassed Green New Deal

Senator Ed Markey (center) spoke during a press conference to announce Green New Deal legislation to promote clean energy programs outside the Capitol in Washington.
Senator Ed Markey (center) spoke during a press conference to announce Green New Deal legislation to promote clean energy programs outside the Capitol in Washington.(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Green New Deal has had a rough start. But that hasn’t stopped Ed Markey, one of its chief architects, from sounding triumphant.

Last week, the GOP-controlled Senate sidelined the ambitious resolution, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to speak coolly about its near-term prospects in the House.

So why did the Massachusetts senator call the GND a “huge success so far” in an interview with me Wednesday?

It’s simple, at least from his perspective. Markey said his big announcement in February with House counterpart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez jump-started what should be the most pressing debate facing the federal government right now: how to combat climate change and its corresponding rise in ferocious storms, fires, and floods.

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Markey said he has heard more debate about climate change among his peers in D.C. during the past two months than in all the time since 2010, when Republicans took control of the House for nearly a decade.

Political hyperbole? Maybe. But the Green New Deal has certainly stoked discussion. A day after the Senate rejected the GND, House Democrats introduced a narrower effort to curb global warming.

The GND is less a specific blueprint for change and more a sweeping manifesto, a resolution calling on the country to wean itself from fossil fuels. Environmental groups rallied behind it. They recognize not every aspect of this kitchen-sink approach — universal health care, along with affordable housing and economic security were thrown into the mix — will make it into law. But they welcome the spotlight on their primary cause.

Markey isn’t new to this debate. He saw his major climate-change legislation, a 1,400-pager known as the Waxman-Markey bill, die in the Senate in 2010, after narrowly passing the House the previous year. After that, the Obama administration pushed through a number of environmental regulations. But the Trump administration has since tried to undo much of that work.

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For Markey, the loss still stings nine years later. So he teamed up with Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile newcomer from New York, to finish what he had started. Perhaps the 72-year-old Democrat, facing reelection next year, also senses a tough campaign ahead. Burnishing his environmental credentials with younger liberal voters shouldn’t hurt in his home state.

The GND doesn’t spell out detailed legislative language for accomplishing its goals. But Markey said he is gearing up to convert those green dreams into reality.

Lawmakers may revisit the tax changes that they rushed through in 2017. Markey said he’ll push to ensure any legislation includes extensions for wind-industry tax credits (expiration date: end of 2019) and solar credits (they’re being scaled back over the next several years). He also wants to strengthen tax benefits for energy storage and electric vehicles.

What about that evasive infrastructure bill? If one finally moves in Congress, Markey said, he and his allies will argue for stronger energy efficiency and climate resiliency standards to be included.

And then there’s the annual appropriations process. Markey said his team will promote amendments to fund climate work and divert funds from programs that hurt the environment. For example, he hopes to use the budget as a cudgel to prevent the Trump administration from weakening fuel-economy standards; he’s also pushing legislation to accomplish the same goal.

And there’s the natural question: What will this whole thing cost?

Markey and AOC may have done themselves a disservice by promising health care, housing, and job guarantees on top of climate benefits. The numbers add up quickly — we’re talking in the trillions — once you throw those in the mix.

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While he doesn’t have a price tag, Markey knows this can’t be done for free. But the cost of inaction on climate change, he argues, will far exceed the costs to prevent catastrophic damage in the first place. To him, this is the defining issue of our time. Now he just needs to convince more of his colleagues, in both parties and chambers, to agree.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.